Addressing compassion fatigue: self-care strategies and resources

If you work in the veterinary world, there’s a strong chance that you are a very empathetic and loving person. While these qualities are invaluable when it comes to caring for animals, they also make you more susceptible to compassion fatigue. In this blog, we share warning signs, prevention tactics and where to find support when it comes to looking after your mental wellbeing in the demanding field that is veterinary care. 

 

What is compassion fatigue? 

 

Compassion fatigue is an emotional response similar to burnout, which mostly impacts healthcare workers. It often occurs when professionals (e.g. vets) develop a close emotional attachment to their clients (the animals they are treating), especially if something goes wrong. Compassion fatigue can also happen when someone has a lot on their plate at work, to the point where they feel overwhelmed and unable to function day-to-day. 

 

Common symptoms of compassion fatigue include: 

 

  • Changes to sleeping pattern (e.g. finding it hard to fall asleep or oversleeping) 
  • Detachment from reality (zoning out, feeling isolated from yourself and others) 
  • Heightened emotions/reactions
  • Feelings of hopelessness 
  • Dreaming about work
  • Catastrophizing cases
  • Waking up tired 

 

Self-care strategies to help avoid compassion fatigue

 

Compassion fatigue is a very real concern for practising vets due to the emotionally demanding nature of the role. So what can you do to prevent it? 

 

  • Set boundaries: Establish clear boundaries between work and personal life. Don’t bring work home, no matter how stressful your day was. Switch off by chucking on your favourite TV show, or planning a cosy night in with friends. 


  • Recognise when you are at risk of compassion fatigue: Knowing the symptoms of compassion fatigue can help you identify when you’ve overdone it or gotten too emotionally involved with a case. This is when you need to take a step back and even take some time off to relax and rejuvenate. 

 

  • Practice mindfulness: Engage in mindfulness or meditation practices to stay present in the moment and manage stress. This could be as simple as taking a few minutes each day to focus on your breath or engage in a guided meditation.

 

  • Seek support: Speak to your friends and family when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Whether you want to verbalise your problems to them or use them as a distraction, your support network is there to help you through tough times – just like you would for them!

 

  • Take breaks: Schedule regular breaks throughout your day to rest and recharge. Even if it’s taking ten minutes to grab a coffee or go for a walk on your lunch break, time spent away from work can help you feel calmer and often, more productive.

 

  • Practice self-compassion: Be kind to yourself and recognise that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed at times. Avoid self-criticism and practice self-compassion by treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a friend in a similar situation.

 

  • Stay healthy: Prioritising your physical health can help you cope with the demands of your job and prevent burnout. Try and do at least half an hour of exercise a day to stay healthy (the trick is finding something you actually enjoy!). 

 

  • Seek professional help: If you’re struggling to cope with compassion fatigue, don’t hesitate to seek help from a mental health professional. Therapy or counselling can provide you with the tools and support you need to manage stress and build resilience.

 

Useful resources

 

  • Call Samaritans for free on 116 123 if you need someone to talk to or email: [email protected]
  • Text “SHOUT” to 85258 to get in touch with the Shout Crisis Text Line
  • Call 111 if you need medical advice but it’s not an emergency, or 999 if you or someone else’s life is at risk. 

 

Here at Choice Vets, mental health comes first and we will do everything we can to advocate for better support within the veterinary community.